Everything you need to set-up, develop & promote a successful Business Blog

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  • Warren: Blogging and Social Media definitely go hand in hand. Having a successful social presence can do a lot for a...
  • Jennifer Rai: All points mentioned above are very well put together. Blogs having purpose and a focus on certain...
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    1. STOP!!
    Before you rush in and publish your first post on your new blog, stop. Thats right, stop, hang fire, wait, take a chill pill, or whatever phrase you care to use. First, lets do a little bit of thinking and, heaven forbid, planning before we rush over to the nearest free blog site to register an inappropriate name, choose a bland design and start to write things your customers dont have any interest in.

    2. Plan what you want to use it for
    [Sorry to mention plan again so early on] If the answer to this is that you dont know, its just that your competitor has just set one up, then go straight to jail, dont pass Go and dont collect 200. You need to be clear what you want to do with your blog right from the start or else you are quite simply planning to fail and join the ranks of businesses with forgettable (and most likely forgotten) blogs. At a basic level, decide if you want to focus on company branding, or perhaps differentiating your services by writing about your specific expertise or perhaps carrying out market research with it in fact any use other than Well, Im not really sure.

    3. Decide who you want to read it
    Everyone anyone someone?! Try to be all things to all people and the likelihood is that youll fail to appeal to anyone. The best types of business blogs tend to be specific in nature so, if you know who you are writing for, then you should be able to write things that are going to interest them. If they are interested then theyre going to come back and read some more and maybe even pass on the news to others that theyve found a company who really knows what theyre talking about. Sounds like a plan to me! (plan sorry)

    4. Check out other blogs in your market
    When you move to a new neighbourhood, youll always want to visit the area first, have a look at the other houses, see whats going on, maybe talk to some people and listen to what they are talking about. See who people take notice of and who runs the local sports club that you are interested in. You get to know the place before you move in. Do the same with blogs get to know the blogs that already exist in the market you are going to be writing about. Use a Blog Search Engine like Technorati or Google Blog Search to see whos talking about what and how the blogs are being used. You might get some ideas for when youre planning and putting together your own!

    5. Decide what you want the blog to achieve
    And while we are thinking about the blog from a business perspective, how about some targets? You just know someone, sometime, somewhere is going to ask about Return on Investment (particularly in corporate blogs) so make sure you can tell them what you planned to achieve and whether it hit those targets. Youll need to measure the results of course and decide on your criteria – sales enquiries, newsletter signups, referrals, reduction in customer support requests or reader numbers are just some of the ones you could use. In any case, if you dont know what you want to achieve then how can you tell if you are doing the right things?

    6. Decide where to run your blog
    And dont say Blogger! (I still prefer to have control over the information in my blog when its such a key part of my marketing.) My question is really whether you want to have it on your own website or run it from a separate domain? Lots of variables you can take into account but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, if it complements what you have on your website then integrate it; if you want to take a different stance in your blog which doesnt sit comfortably with your main site, then use a different domain. From an SEO perspective, no issue same domain.

    7. How much time to spend on it
    Blogging takes time – there is the research as well as the writing that you need to consider and although there are lots of ways to help streamline this process, the posts still have to be written and you are going to want to maintain the quality of what you produce as well. The posts can take a number of different forms from Foundation posts at the start to long involved articles or simple link referrals – all are valid if they add value to your readers. Anyway, I digress. Plan how much time you are willing to dedicate to your blog, you’ll find it much more relevant than deciding how often you want to post.

    8. How do you want it to work with your business?
    As I mentioned in a recent post, no blog is an island, so you need to make sure that the blog can work with other parts of your business. Plan (damn, damn, damn) how you want it to work with the other activities that you have ongoing or at least that you know how you are going to achieve it. A blog can do lots for you on its own but it can do even more when used in conjunction with the rest of your business.

    9. Check if you really need a blog
    This may sound bizarre given all that I do here to help people use blogs to promote their business, but its a really valid question. Youve looked at the other points above? Have you got answers to them and, with those in hand, do you still want to run a business blog? It’s good to be clear from the start that a highly effective tool when used correctly and worse than useless if you are going to start it with lots of enthusiasm but no planning, only to let it die as soon as that initial enthusiasm wanes. However, if the answer is still Yes, then great – now you can get started properly!

    10. Plan
    As you may have noticed, there is a theme running through all of these elements and that is … planning! Planning, or rather the lack of it, is the root cause of more blog failures than anything else, either because they lose focus in terms of content or business focus, or because the author(s) lose impetus. All things that can be avoided with prior planning. So don’t fall into that trap and before you start your Business blog … stop and do the planning which will ensure your blog is a success.

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    Start or set up a blog: Key question 3This is part of a 3 part mini-series looking at the planning phase of setting up and starting your business blog.

    Each post will focus on one of the 3 key questions that you should have clear answers for as you set up your blog before you start to write it.

    Question 3:
    What do you want to achieve?

    Unsurprisingly, what we want to achieve with our blog is linked inextricably to how we intend to use it and who we are trying to appeal to – the first 2 key questions. If you want your blog to help raise your profile and demonstrate your expertise in your field, then you might be looking to build up references (and hence inbound links) or potential business contacts; on the other hand, if it forms part of your customer service offering, then you will want to see an improved customer satisfaction and reduced customer care calls.

    In both of these cases, though, to get the best results from the blog, we need to both write and develop the blog with a clear focus and goal in mind. It not only gives us direction but also gives us a yardstick to measure each decision about our blog against, whether that’s what topic to post about, changes to blog design, positioning of services etc. If it doesn’t help us to achieve the goal, then perhaps we should be rethinking it. It sounds harsh, but ultimately our business blog is an element of our business and therefore needs to be contributing to it.

    What we need to know clearly at the start is what we want to achieve with the blog and this, combined with the answers to questions 1 and 2, will help us to decide how the blog should look, where key elements need to be located, what to write, how to market it and so on.

    But, what criteria should we be using to see how successful the blog is? Ideally they will be in line with the main objective that you set out for your blog but its necessary to have some way of measuring this. Here are some possible ones to consider:

    • You might consider that it is the number of new or repeat visitors to your blog;

    • It could be the number of comments that you receive on your posts which can indicate the level of interaction you are achieving;

    • Number of subscribers to your RSS feed may be important because you feel this shows active interest;

    • Number of blogs and websites which link to your blog or refer to your articles via trackbacks;

    • Quantity of new customers who get in contact through the contact form on your Blog or specifically the sales generated by the blog either directly or indirectly;

    • Number of sign ups to a newsletter which you have as a marketing call to action

    • Reduction in support or care calls if you are running your blog as part of your technical support or customer service function

    • Number of additional book copies sold if you are using it as part of your book promotion activities

    • Comments and suggestions if your blog is being used as a market research tool or product development support

    • Press contacts or offline articles generated directly as a result of your

    Because the possible uses of a blog are so wide, so are the possible goals you can have and ways to measure them – it’s simply a case of deciding which is the most appropriate for you in accordance with the aims you have for the blog and your business. Bringing them all together should give us a feel for the overall Return on Investment (ROI), at least to a certain extent.

    Above all, have your objectives and goals in mind will help your blog fulfil its potential and deliver the results you want. As the refrain goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will do” – so keep a careful eye on what you want to achieve and you’ll make sure you’re on the right road from day one.

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    Business Blog Design Series[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]

    While Ive written on this subject before, I feel that it is worthy of inclusion again as part of the Business Blog Design series.

    It’s all about communication!

    When we talk to someone face to face, either at a personal or business level, there will be a point when the conversation turns to questions such as “what do you do?”, “where are you from?” or something akin to “what team do you support?”. Why? Because we are interested in knowing more about the people that we deal with – its in our nature

    In the same way, blogs are really all about communication too, as well as interaction and conversation. Personal blogs approach this with certain goals in mind – getting in touch with people with common interests or just wanting “to be heard” for example – while companies using business blogs have a different agenda and may be looking to generate trust, differentiate themselves and ultimately develop additional business.

    In both cases, you need to make sure that people can find out more about you … and also find you! When you are reading a business blog and find what is being said interesting, it can be very frustrating if you want to contact the person or find out where they are based only to discover that that little (but crucial) bit of information is nowhere to be seen. Not only is this frustrating but it can also be damaging from a business point of view too!

    Make your details easy to find

    So make sure that you provide your readers with a clear way of finding out about the person who is writing the blog and who they are communicating with. They’ll already have a good idea but what you write and how you write it but help them on their way – always remember to put up a profile up on your Business Blog as well as a way for your readers to get in touch with you, though of course those can be on the same page.

    If you prefer to include your details as part of your sidebar then keep it short and sweet thats part of your prime real estate that we talked about in the original post so youll have lots of business specific stuff that you also want to be highly visible there. I personally prefer a link through to a separate page where you have a little more space to include whatever details seem appropriate to you. And a photo … always remember a photo! Most of us work visually, so that help your readers picture you, even if you’re not totally comfortable with it like me.

    What to include?

    Some profiles will focus on past work and experience ( no CVS though, please), others will have more of a current focus and outline future plans. What ever you put there, try to make it personal though and don’t forget that picture as well! :) Remember that from a networking perspective, your Business Blog acts as the hub at the centre of that network – people are therefore going to be interested in the real you and what makes you tick so give them some insights into the person behind the Blog.

    You also want people to be able to contact you. They can do this by posting comments on your blog, but they may also want to get in contact with you directly. So, make sure that you also have your contact details on your blog, either as part of your profile or in a separate section or both!

    Don’t forget your legal obligations

    Finally, in Europe at least, a new law which came into force at the beginning of 2007 requires that emails and websites (and hence blogs) to display certain details about the company and/or individual that is writing them so make sure that you comply if necessary. Theres more information about this here.

    Make sure that your profile and your contact details are clearly visible on your Blog – make it easy for others to find out more about you and contact you!

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    Lately, I’ve been working with a number of companies and individuals who are either looking for a blog makeover or who want to set up a blog for the first time.

    Particularly, as I have carried out the Blog Appraisal which forms part of the blog makeover, I have noticed a number of areas which are important when starting a Business blog before you ever “put finger to keyboard”, as it were! Yet often they have been overlooked so I thought I’d share some of the main ones here – let me know if there are others that you think should be included!

    a) Dont skimp on time spent planning your Blog
    The planning process for your Business Blog is a crucial time but one that often seems to be skipped over or done hurriedly. You can save a great deal of pain later on by spending a little time planning out what you want to achieve with your blog and how to do it. Time spent in outlining the focus and the target audience of your blog is time well spent and ideally also make time to map out the posts for the first few weeks so that the initial postings go smoothly.

    b) Keep Navigation Easy
    Your blog gets structured automatically for you but I’d still make sure that the category names are well chosen and visible – I find that new visitors to a blog use these most often to get around. Help your readers find your blog home page quickly and easily – convention suggests that clicking on the banner at the top should take you back to the home page, but be aware that there are new readers of blogs everyday who will be more familiar with a “home” link.

    c) Make Key Posts easy to find
    As you increase the number of posts on your site, make sure that readers can find the posts which really get to the heart of your business – these could be the initial “Foundation” posts or ones you have added later. One possibility is to create a page (linked directly from your sidebar) called Top 10 posts or Key Articles or whatever you feel best describes them. This page can then contain links to all of your key posts. In this way, you make sure that they are highlighted in amongst all of the other information that you provide.

    d) Profile and Contact details
    Not putting a profile and contact details on your blog is missing out on an opportunity and potentially shooting yourself in the foot particularly if your blog is a stand alone site rather than integrated as part of your company website. If I find what I am reading interesting then I may want to get in touch with the author, so make it easy for me to do so! You should also use your profile page as the place where you can outline the goals of your blog as well as presenting yourself use this to achieve maximum effect for yourself.

    e) Create your own look and feel
    All blog software comes with base templates which dictate what a Blog looks like whatever you do, dont leave it as this default base version! There is nothing worse than spending time creating a wonderful blog full of excellent information and then leave it looking like thousands of others would you do that with a website or with a book? No! Make sure that you change it either yourself or get someone in to do it for you it will differentiate you and what you have to say as well as help with your positioning, so make the most of it.

    f) Avoid free hosted blogging systems for a Business Blog
    Sorry, this is a bugbear of mine but I feel that you should have control over any important aspect of your business and a Business Blog is just that, so dont leave it on a hosted system which gives you little flexibility or control. Also remember that you should try to choose a blogging platform which will grow with you as you discover other areas where a blog can help your business. Changing blogging platforms is a pain that is best avoided, so choose one which means you don’t have to!

    g) Not setting up friendly permalinks
    Setting up search engine and visitor friendly permalinks and URLs for your blog is beneficial from all points of view and something you should do as part of the set-up. If you leave them in a format such as then you are missing out in a number of ways – so set them up correctly from the start and make sure that you are not left ruing this as your Blog develops and it becomes more difficult to change.

    h) Add Clear RSS Feed details
    RSS is already a key tool and is only going to get more important, particularly as its visibility starts to increase following the release of Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 over the past weeks, both of which include an RSS reader (of sorts!). Give readers options and where appropriate explain what RSS is and how it can benefit them!

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    There is still a reticence for people to start to use blogging in a corporate environment. Often, this comes from the feeling that they would be tackling something that they do not totally understand and that they are concerned about the long-term commitment that they are taking on.

    However, there are ways to alleviate these concerns by taking steps which can ease you into the Corporate Blogging process and help you to feel more comfortable as you get started. The following tips appeared from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and attributed to Debbie Weil who has just launched her book on corporate blogging called The Corporate Blogging Book.

    (The headings are from the original post, the commentary is my own)

    Tip #1. Think about blogging strategically
    Business blogs can positively impact many different areas of an organisation: marketing, product development, customer service, human resources to name but a few. These are all areas which have a strategic impact on the organisation at a number of levels. If you treat your Corporate Blog as the strategic tool that it is, then you will find that this focuses the mind wonderfully on what you want to say, how you express and to whom. The strategic as well as tactical benefits from a Corporate Blog are often key when organisations decide they must incorporate a blog into their business activities.

    Tip #2. Consider starting an event-specific blog
    Blogs are an ideal tool on which to build the marketing and organisation of a Conference, Seminar or Exhibition as I outlined in Business Blogs for great Event Publicity. They have the added advantage that the work in terms of writing and posting is finite – even if the marketing benefit lives on afterwards! Therefore if the worry about the ongoing nature of a Corporate Blog is stopping you from even starting, then use it for a Conference or Exhibition – the results will soon convince you to extend its use further!

    Tip #3. Get familiar with the convention of blogging
    There are two key ways of getting more familiar with the idea of blogging: watching and practising. So, firstly take the time to read what other people are writing and how they are writing about it there is a huge range available so you should find many examples of ones which you particularly like. Then plan your own and start to write it until you publicise it, a blog will remain private which will allow you to practise until you feel comfortable. Alternatively, consider the approach suggested in a recent post on Blogging For Business called Throw Away Blogs – a Trial Blog where you write a blog on a subject which you can abandon as required. Finally, and particularly useful if you are evaluating who might write a corporate blog from within your company, start an internal blog aimed at your own staff and develop it from there – you’ll get great input.

    Tip #4. Don’t worry about running out of things to say
    You are knowledgeable in your area of expertise and you are in an industry which is constantly developing in one way or another. Therefore there are always going to be areas that you can write about. In fact, once you start to write a Corporate Blog, you will find that the issue is not that you run out of things to say but that you have to carefully select which items you wish to focus on because you will not have the time to cover everything.

    Tip #5. Just do it
    Ultimately, you need to launch the blog and start to write – you have had some practice, you have seen what others are doing and you have set up your sources of information (including RSS). Now, plan out your first few “Foundation” posts and start to write. If you feel that you need to change things and react to the feedback you get, then you can do so – even the largest companies take feedback and adapt accordingly when launching a Corporate Blog, so don’t worry if you feel you want to as well.

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    [For those not of a certain age, or not from the UK, the Green Cross Code is a road safety campaign for crossing the road started in the 1970s which initially used the instructions Stop – Look – Listen – Think – Cross.]

    If you are starting to write a blog, then it is all too easy to get carried away, rush into setting up the blog and start writing immediately. If you are in this situation then try employing the Green Cross Code of Blogging.

    Stop! Wait, don’t rush into writing your blog immediately, you need to plan first and see what is happening.

    Have a look at the blogs that are out there and see what people and doing and how. Try to read all you can both on and offline.

    “Listen” to the conversations going on in the blogosphere and to what people are saying, as well as to any advice you are offered.

    Think about what you have read, take time to plan your blog in terms of what you want to say and to whom, and what are your goals.

    Finally, start to blog with all of these elements in mind but keeping looking, listening and thinking all the time.

    To make a success of a blog, you need to spend time planning a variety of elements on your Blog as you start to develop it, and crucially you should also spend time looking at what is being written about and listening what is being said, before you put “pen to paper” on your first post.

    I was reminded of this last week during a webinar organised by Marketing Profs and given by the excellent Jeremy Wright, author of Blog Marketing which I would strongly recommend. Jeremy used the analogy that starting a blog is like entering a room of 1000 people, with conversations already going on everywhere that you are not party to.

    As you walk in, it looks like a daunting task to understand what is going on and join in the conversations. However, if you take the time to look at who is talking and listen to some of the discussions, you can quickly get a feel for what is going on. By following the references to other people that are mentioned, you can also develop a good understanding of the principal contributors and their opinions. Then, as you start to blog yourself, you will be in a much stronger position with a better understanding of how it works, what others are doing and saying and whom you should get in contact with.

    So, if we break this down and take it back to basics, then I recommend that when you start a blog, you follow the Green Cross Code of Blogging:


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    It is always an exciting if slightly nerve racking time when you start to write your Business Blog but it is also very important because you will be laying down the ground rules for what your readers can expect from you in the future.

    To help get through this initial period, there are certain things that you can do which will make it easier to get the first posts in place from which you can then develop.

    Set yourself realistic goals for posting
    Make sure that you set some goals in terms of how often you are going to blog – make them realistic and then stick to them. You should decide during your planning phase how much time you want to dedicate to your Business Blog and then split that time between researching your posts and writing them.

    Plan ahead
    As you start, map out what you want to cover during the first few days and weeks, and note down the topics that you feel comfortable with. This will provide you with a framework to work with. You dont need to plan every post, in fact you shouldnt. If you are intending to create a blog which will get people coming back on a regular basis then you will also be commenting on breaking news or articles that are posted by others. However, setting out in your own mind a series of topics that you wish to cover will really help in your initial writing.

    Set out your stall at the start
    Within this first set of posts, try to include at least 2 3 key articles, ones that sum up a number of the areas and concepts that you are going to be focusing on in your blog as a whole. They might be simply instructive or could outline a number of different ideas and concepts that you will expand on in later posts over time. If you are unsure about the type of things to include, then you could do a lot worse than go back over some of the presentations that you have made to clients or partners. These are likely to include a lot of the ideas that you will now have the opportunity to expand on and develop over the course of writing your blog.

    Plan a short series of posts on a specific topic
    A series of posts on a subject which is important to your overall subject area is a good method of getting you going and establishing a relevant area of focus in your Business blog. A series can help in a number of different ways, but in particular will allow you to go into detail on a single topic you feel is particularly important and that you are comfortable writing about. This will help to get you started and gain some momentum in your writing.

    Comment on news in your industry
    If you are aiming to position yourself as a key source of information for your readers in your industry or niche then you will need to keep up to date with developments and be prepared to give your opinion on them. In any case, this is a great way of adding content to your site which also helps build the level of trust and confidence in you and your knowledge.

    Sitting there with a blank screen in front of you is always a difficult time so use some of these methods to get you started and you can certain that you’ll be up and running more quickly that you expected.

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    One of the elements that you will need to consider as part of the process of planning your Business Blog is to decide what you want to call it. You may have chosen a name for it earlier on, indeed in many cases this has been the first thing that people have decided about when they first thought about setting up a Business Blog!

    It is important, however, and so certainly worth spending the time to look at the elements which might influence your decision. It’s important because this is what people will remember first and foremost, this is what they will use to recommend your blog and this is what the blog search engines will use to refer to your Blog at every turn.

    The name of your Blog is likely to be mainly a personal decision you may want to choose a name which reflects its contents, which incorporates the name of your business or which you simply liked and just wanted to use. A couple of words of warning on this:

    • you need to choose something that you will feel comfortable promoting. So be aware that a name that you think is funny or clever now, needs to still be clever or funny in 12 months time;

    • you may want to have the same domain name as the name of your blog, so it might be advisable to check on the availability of the domain name as well;

    • in most blog software, the name of the blog is automatically included in the Title tag which is important in Search Engine Optimisation, so you may like to consider using one of your keywords in the Blog’s name.

    The decision on the domain name that you use for your Blog is important as well, as I touched upon above – there is a fuller look at this area in the article Choosing a Domain Name for your Business Blog which covers the areas that you need to consider during the process.

    An additional point, some blogs give you the opportunity to have a tagline as well which is also used in the Title tag on the first page of your blog. Since you are given the opportunity, then select something which is catchy and works for you or add a short description about what the blog is aiming to do.

    It’s a competitive world on the internet, so do make use of any opportunity to publicise the contents of your blog and this is a useful one – if you want to see how many people forget about this, then just type “just another wordpress weblog” (including the inverted commas) into Google. There are so many blogs using WordPress which have left this default setting which then gets picked up by Google – each of these could be improving their ability to be found simply with this small change.

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